WLFM studios undergoing redesign

Doris Kim

WLFM, Lawrence’s student radio station, resumed broadcasting via the Internet Wednesday evening. The station’s studios in the Music-Drama Center have been dramatically renovated since the sale of the FCC license last summer.
WLFM was Northeast Wisconsin’s first FM station in 1956. The station had been in steady decline until its abrupt termination. Some equipment from the first broadcast was still in use last year, such as the station’s transmitter. The station has gradually been overshadowed by other college radio stations and had given up a great deal of broadcast time to Wisconsin Public Radio. Lawrence president Jill Beck announced in a June 22 e-mail to the Lawrence community that her administration had decided to the put an end to the broadcast of the station’s FM signal. Instead of continuing to use obsolete technology, WLFM has taken this opportunity to reinvigorate the station and its listeners by going Internet-only.
The equipment, facilities and funds available to WLFM in years past have constrained the quality of the station and the availability for students. The antenna was located off campus, where the signal could not reach all of the Fox Valley area, and even some parts of Appleton. But a greater problem was that not many students had radios. A webcast was available, but it was inefficient and incompatible with some computers.
Even if students were able to listen to WLFM, it was not always a reliable source of radio shows.
“The quality of radio shows was not always consistent. We had weird irregular hours to air, only from 5 p.m.-2 a.m.,” said station manager Reid Stratton. “And if there was no show, then there wasn’t anything on the air.”
A minority of students and alumni has been very vocal about closing down the station.
“If the station were to break down, it would have been taken away completely because it would have cost so much to replace,” Stratton continued. “Instead, by selling it and using the money to buy a new server, there is a station.”
Catching up to other college campuses by going online has not caused many problems. WLFM have been able to get assistance from other schools that have Internet broadcasting. Station managers Andy Hanson-Dvoracek and Sandi Schwert went to a college radio conference in New York to learn more about the format and network with other schools.
“Luckily, webcasting is more popular and easier now than it was five years ago,” said Hanson-Dvoracek.
There are a few drawbacks to abandoning the campus station. No one will be able to pick up the WLFM signal on automobile radios. An entire community of WLFM listeners will not be able to follow the station to the Internet. The station offered a few Spanish language shows as well as one for Hmong listeners. A significant portion of the listeners of these shows does not have Internet access. These shows, as well as several others hosted by local community members, had to be dropped.
The advantages of having the high-end production equipment will yield for more exciting radio for a potentially much wider audience. Things to look forward to include: live band recordings and performances, drama shows, and a constant and more diverse range of music. Instead of just the microphones and CD players used last year, there will be a digital production studio and a much more powerful server that can broadcast 24 hours a day.
The bands Braille, Anathallo and Sunday Flood helped kick off WLFM’s first webcast at an event in Riverview Lounge Nov. 2.
“We want this radio station to be sought – a station listeners will want to come back to,” said Stratton.